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Will this time monsoon bring cheer to the farmers, will it help in stopping their suicide?

India is often called land of paradoxes. The highest growth rate of India as a major economy despite the global headwinds has baffled economists throughout the world. The point to be noted here is that it is not the only area where India has made a mark. The country which gave the slogan of ‘Jai Jawan Jai Kisan’ (Salute Soldier Salute Farmer) is also known to have one of the highest farmer suicides in the world. The occupation of farming on one hand has a great responsibility to feed billions of starving mouths and on the other, they are themselves left to starve and fend for themselves.

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Why the high rate of suicides? The agricultural income has declined in the last two years due to monsoon deficit of 12 and 14 per cent the country has been facing with the prevalence of El-Nino (climatic cycle in the Pacific Ocean having global impact). Given the fact that more than 85% of the agriculture depends on South Western Monsoon, its importance can’t be stated more. The uncertain rainfall takes a toll on the crop harvest and devastates the farmers’ dreams of prosperity pushing them into gargantuan debts leading to suicides.

Consequences of poor rainfall: The ramifications of monsoon deficit are manifold. The loss of the present year’s crop is merely the tip of the iceberg. Our country is home of maximum number of small and marginal farmers who live on hand to mouth concept and barely have any savings or insurance. They take huge amounts of money as loan from local money lenders at high interest rates to meet the input costs of seeds, fertilizers etc. Even in case of good monsoon their savings remain meagre as most of the revenue goes in the payment of loan, interest and daily expenditures. In cases of untimely rains and its deficit the situation is beyond imagination.

There is a silver lining this time as the Indian Meteorological Department has predicted a 106% rainfall which has a potential of bringing back the happiness and cheer to rural India. Empirical studies have shown that a severe El-Nino is generally followed by a La-Nina (a phenomenon reverse of El-Nino) which is a cause of bumper harvest in India. However, it is still uncertain if this year will become the year of La-Nina, though chances remain high given the El-Nino was the second most severe ever experienced.

In any case, Economic Survey 2015-16 has held high hopes on the monsoon and it says that GDP growth of the country depends on the monsoon. A good harvest will augment the rural income which will have a positive impact on the rural demand. Farmers will be able to pay off the past debts and a streak of confidence will be reignited in them. This will give a boost to domestic consumption, C which is the highest contributor to the GDP (=C+I, Investment +G, Government Spending +NX, Net Exports) of the country.

Is dependence on monsoon correct? One major question that arises here is that- Is it correct for the largest democracy having more than 600 million people sustaining on agriculture to depend entirely on monsoon vagaries for filling their stomach? Certainly not. There are various other challenges confronting the agriculture sector needing imminent attention.

Challenges to the agriculture sector: Firstly, the lack of irrigation infrastructure is primarily responsible for this dependence. Second, the lack of investment and awareness about rain water harvesting leads to wastage of excessive rainfall in one season and prevalence of drought in other. Third, the money lenders in the system who oppress farmers and misuse their innocence and ignorance need to get replaced by formal banking system. Fourth, the insurance of crop which is less than 30% at present needs to go up to cover even the most marginal of the farmer. Fifth, the middle men in APMC markets who take away a large share of farmers’ income need to be checked.

The Government of India has taken several progressive steps in this regard such as Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana, National Agricultural Markets, Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana, Krishi Kalyan cess etc. to augment farmer income. However, a lot more needs to be done, particularly to check the high dependency on monsoon. One of the most significant steps proposed by Economic Survey is changing the cropping pattern and making it more suitable to the local environmental conditions. For instance, a shift towards pulses which require less water and bring more revenue is suggested.

Until then, it seems that this monsoon can prove to be life saver for Indian farmers and bring back the cheer to their lives.

- Ashima Mittal